Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany, the season highlighting the ways in which the divine in Jesus was revealed to humanity. In today’s gospel story Jesus is hobnobbing with Moses and Elijah, who yield to Jesus’s greater stature, his appearance altered to a dazzling white. This is high drama indeed. Just as Mark’s Gospel began with God’s declaration to Jesus at his baptism that he is beloved, so now on a mountaintop the disciples hear a reiteration of that same phrase. God’s voice thunders divine approval and again names Jesus as beloved son. This time God commands that Jesus' followers should listen to him.
What does Peter do? Rather than waiting to hear from Jesus, Peter makes a suggestion: Let’s just stay here in this moment of glorious illumination. It’s as if Peter’s suggestion broke a spell. Poof. Moses and Elijah disappeared. God’s voice became silent. Enlightenment must lead us somewhere. Jesus and disciples descend. The narrator closes the scene this way: “Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” And maybe that is the disciples' task in a nutshell: Listen to him. See him only.
There are moments in life when we experience high drama. Our senses are heightened; our hearts beat faster; we realize that things will be different from now on. We might feel God’s presence acutely then; we might see “only Jesus.”
What’s important for us to remember is that after the drama, after we’ve come down from the mountain of momentous events and dramatic experiences, there are things that need doing. Every powerful experience should send us out into the world to love and care and DO in the name of Jesus.
Last week was dramatic. We played our small part in a historic moment as Alabama became the 37th state to permit same-sex marriage. Our own courageous Kiera and Shay were among the first same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in Mobile County and received national media attention for doing so. Our congregation's efforts to raise money for Kim and Cari, covered by local media, contributed to the fund that made it possible for their attorneys to win their case. Our presence and voice have encouraged and comforted many in our community. We were not aiming for the spotlight; we were aiming to support loved ones and share our convictions of God's love. In doing so, a light shined on us. And drama, which none of us wanted, ensued.
I’ve felt at points that the Probate Court became hallowed ground. We’ve seen a miracle happen this week, a dazzling sign that God has again spoken of our belovedness—the belovedness of ALL God’s people. But we can’t remain on the mountain or in the probate court house—though it felt at times last week we would be in the court house forever waiting for those marriage license windows to open.
We have to go back down the mountain—and leave behind the dazzling rainbow-colored glow of this historic week. We move from the mountain to the mundane. We leave the drama for our daily duties: of caring for others, of forgiving our friends and family and ourselves, of standing with those who have been ignored, of deepening our own spiritual resources for the work ahead.
But first we may want to tell the story about what we saw on the mountain. Let’s not forget it. Let’s put it into a story so we make this moment as sacred. Let’s remember how we witnessed Jesus with us this week.
At the prayer vigil at the court house on Thursday, I concluded my remarks by recalling the drama of Monday and noting signs of Love this way:
On Monday in the midst of frustrations and disappointments, as partners consoled and encouraged one another in this very place, I witnessed the patient and kind love that St. Paul taught. And I saw total strangers surprising us with kindnesses. While rainbow banners lined this sidewalk, car horns honked a steady song of support up and down Government Street. Passersby cheered on those supporters lining the sidewalk. People we didn't know brought the folks inside this building food that we shared in a kind of holy communion. Near the end of the day, one woman walked into the probate courthouse laden with bouquets of fresh flowers she distributed to all couples seeking a marriage license.
One straight couple who was turned away from the marriage license window on Monday had planned a church wedding for this Friday. I held my breath when a reporter asked how they felt about this roadblock to their plans, fearing they might lash out at “the gays.” They did not. They shared our frustration. And with soft murmurs and sympathetic faces, we conveyed wordlessly our caring for them in another act of communion. At the very end of the day, long after we were told that no licenses of any kind would be forthcoming, at least one brave couple remained until the doors closed and then they came back the next morning as soon as the doors opened. Many of you came back every day since.
You have been faithful. Even if your religion shoved you away years ago, you have been people of faith. You have been faithful to this good thing.
This God thing.
This work of Love in your hearts and in our community.
Dearly beloved, on Transfiguration Sunday, let’s remember that the Transfigured One moves back down the mountain with the realization of suffering to come. Let’s remember that we follow Jesus not only up the mountain for dramatic moments and spiritual highs but we also walk forward with him into the world’s suffering. After all, it’s often there that we are transfigured. You and I have certainly been changed as we've worked for marriage equality and human rights.
Over lunch today we’ll talk about this past week of Jesus encounters. You may want to share, as we break bread together, experiences which allowed you to “listen to Jesus” or see some of God’s glory. Marking moments as sacred and converting experience into strengthening story are functions of a faith community. Today is a good day for doing just that.
PRAYER: On mountaintops and courthouse steps, show us, God of Justice and Love, how to live. Spare us unnecessary drama, please. But when the drama must come, let us hear Jesus's words as our script, and let us turn the spotlight on him. Transform us so that we might be a loving light to others. Amen